Conventional wisdom holds you mellow as you get older, but with his power trio Brothers of the Sonic Cloth, rock lifer Tad Doyle has made the heaviest record of his career.
"It's a good time to be listening to metal," Doyle says, chuckling over the phone from Seattle, where he runs the Witch Ape recording studio. "It just keeps getting better and more diverse," reflecting on the current state of the genre, which is well exhibited at the Southwest Terror Fest. The four-day event finds the Brothers playing alongside doom metal titans Sleep, stoner rockers Acid King, avant noise band The Body, death metal band Landline Marathon and more.
The "better and more diverse" tag applies to the Brothers of the Sonic Cloth self-titled debut. Released early in 2015 on Neurot Recordings, the record manages to out crunch and sludge Doyle's substantially heavy discography with Tad, the band he led from 1988 to 1999. Tad blended straight ahead punk propulsion with sweaty metal swagger, presaging the grunge movement and signing to the influential label Sub Pop Records. (Albums like God's Balls and 8-Way Santa still rank among the best album titles in the storied Sub Pop catalog.) But while many of his '90s peers continue to mine the nostalgia circuit, Doyle remains focused on the present. "That's where I'm living, in the now," he says. "The past is done. It's not exciting to me because there is no life in it."
Doyle's forward outlook is one of the benefits of an extended break he took following the dissolution of Tad in 1999. "It was nice to step away from it, to be honest," Doyle says. "I kind of live my life that there's an abundance of time to do whatever you need to do. There's no rush. I mean obviously—it took us six years to put our [Brothers of the Sonic Cloth] record out. Tad spent a lot of time on the road, and it was just good to be at home in the same bed of a few nights."
During that break he cleaned himself up—leaving drugs and booze behind.
"I took a break for a long time," Doyle says. "I wasn't even playing music for quite a while. I was just reading a lot. I wasn't going to shows to the point that I just fell out of it. When I met my now wife, she turned me on to a lot of stuff that was really good and influential as well." A settled life suited Doyle, and soon he got married to his future band mate Peggy. Their connection was as musical at is was romantic. "We would always play together," Doyle says. "That came first."
Eventually, inspired by records Peggy played him, Doyle was drawn back to music. He began putting up doom metal sketches anonymously on MySpace as Brothers of the Sonic Cloth. Though his metal influences were always apparent with Tad, the tracks found Doyle fully embracing the sounds he grew up with. "I listened to Zeppelin, AC/DC, Sabbath, of course," Doyle says. Soon, he recruited drummer Dave French to flesh out his riffs, and Peggy joined in. Her contributions were vital, Doyle says. "I've never played with a woman this long," he says. "It's an interesting dynamic. They look at things and hear things differently."
The band's self-titled debut didn't materialize until 2015, but was worth the wait. Songs like "Lava" and "Empires of Dust" are bludgeoning—Doyle roars like a wounded dinosaur throughout. "La Mano Poderosa" employs elements of post-rock, while "Unnamed" and "The Immutable Path" sound cinematic and atmospheric. "We stand in the doorway, alone," Doyle intones on the latter, his voice low and haunting. "One foot in, one foot out, alone/Unsure of what is to come."
Upon finishing the album, Doyle approached Neurot Recordings, the eclectic label founded by members of Neurosis, about releasing it. "Back in the day Tad and Neurosis played shows together here and there," Doyle says. "I always kept in touch—probably not as well as I should have. It just seemed like a natural to bring it to them and see if they wanted to put it out."
The enthusiastic support was a relief to Doyle. After its initial run on Sub Pop, Tad had difficulty navigating the major label grunge feeding frenzy in the '90s, first signing with Warner Music Group subsidiary Giant, then shuffling to another Warner imprint, East West, in partnership with Elektra Records. "I was really excited that [Neurot Recordings] got it, understood where it was coming from and where it was going," Doyle says. "That was a big plus, having been a guy that dealt with clueless A&R people from major labels for so long, it's really nice to be talking with someone who's aware of what's happening and the dynamics of it."
Doyle is reasonably sure that the next Brothers of the Sonic Cloth record won't take quite as long. "God I hope so," he laughs, "Six or seven years is a bit too much." The group's already got a few songs worked out. "It's just a matter of me getting off my butt and staying out of the studio recording other people's music to write my own some more," he laughs.
Witch Ape takes up most of his time, not that he minds. "I love it," Doyle says. And maybe his current creative life is why he's avoided the '90s nostalgia racket. He's a settled man these days, who just happens to be making the heaviest sounds of his career, with his own band and with others. "I get to wake up and do it instead of sitting in traffic commuting to some place I don't like to be at," Doyle says. "Lord knows I've done enough of that in the past, and life's too short to live that way."